At least 73 people have died after a train travelling through Punjab province in Pakistan caught fire, trapping many on board.
The fire on the Karachi to Rawalpindi service, one of Pakistan’s busiest and most popular trains, started with the explosion of a cooking gas cylinder and quickly spread across at least three carriages.
Officials said the death toll was likely to rise further, with at least 40 more people injured and many in critical condition. Some bodies were so badly burned DNA analysis will be needed to identify the victims, officials said.
The train was approaching the town of Liaquatpur in Punjab when the fire broke out. Many were killed when they tried to jump off the burning, speeding train, officials were quoted in local media as saying.
As TV footage from the scene of the fire showed a huge blaze raging through the train as firefighters struggled to get it under control, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan tweeted that he was “deeply saddened by the terrible tragedy” and had ordered an inquiry.
Local officials said the injured were being taken by ambulance to the city of Multan, the largest near to the site of the accident. Another train has been dispatched to take survivors on to Rawalpindi.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Pakistan’s railways minister, suggested that some passengers had been trying to make breakfast on a gas stove while the train was moving, a breach of regulations.
“Two cooking stoves blew up. They were cooking, they had [cooking] oil which added fuel to fire,” he said.
But local media reports were critical of railways officials for seemingly ignoring the fact that passengers were bringing on board their personal gas stoves.
And several survivors were quoted by local media contradicting the official account, saying they believed a short circuit on the train was to blame.
Pakistan has a track record of serious accidents on its overcrowded trains, although Thursday’s fire was the deadliest incident in more than a decade.
In 2007, a crash near Mehrabpur killed at least 56 people and injured more than 120, while the country suffered one of its worst ever train disasters in 2005 when three trains collided in Sindh province, killing more than 130.
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